Wednesday, May 2, 2012

If Nashville is the Benchmark For Jets, Fans Need Not Wait Too Long

As the Nashville Predators have made their way into the Stanley Cup Playoffs second round for the second time in as many years, many of Jets reporters (Winnipeg Free Press' own Gary Lawless), pundits, and fans are looking to them to see what they will acheive.

Will they be able to do more than simply win one round and bow out?  Or will they rise to the occassion of a team that showed they were worthy of being a part of the last eight teams to play hockey in May?

Peering at the Predators roster, there are many players who are workhorses - players who are the backbone of the team. Players including All-Star captain and Norris Trophy candidate Shea Weber and defensive partner Ryan Suter along with others such as Mike Fisher, Martin Erat, and others. And not to forget the Predators MVP - their goalie - Pekka Rinne.

Organizational philosophy aside, the Predators makeup over the past 13 seasons has been one that has been ever evolving and ever growing. Names that have been through the Nashville lineup through the draft include the likes of Scott Hartnell, Dan Hamhuis, Cody Franson, and Scott Upshall as well as current Predators Weber, Suter, Rinne, Kevin Klein, David Legwand, Colin Wilson, and up-and-coming offensive defenseman Ryan Ellis.

Point in case: the Predators have built their team through the draft, not through free agency - a similar approach that Jets General Manger Kevin Cheveldayoff seems to be employing quite strictly.

As the 2011 Stanley Cup Playoffs were the first true post-season success for the Nashville franchise (13 seasons into existence), the team had thirteen full-time players who were Predator draft picks.

It is slow, successful progressions towards success that has made the Predators a model franchise as they are also a very low budget team.

According to nhlnumbers.com, Nashville has the fifth lowest payroll in the NHL through the 2011-12 season (Winnipeg is the sixth lowest) and were one of four teams in the bottom ten of league payroll to make the playoffs (Florida, Phoenix, and Ottawa the others).

What Nashville has different from Florida is the makeup of their team is mainly draft picks while Phoenix and Ottawa could be seen as similar situations to Nashville, but without the slow progress into success as both franchises have seen ebbs and flows of success having been around much longer. 

Another thing that stands out from the Nashville model is Winnipeg bred Barry Trotz - the only head coach in Predators history.

Trotz, an unassuming and humble coach who demands the most out of his players, has seen his success not only climb in his 13 season behind the bench, but has seen how to build a winner from the ground up.

His input into the team's success over his tenure has been essential to the maturation of those draft picks that the organization has given him to help along.

In his 13 season as head coach, he has only had five losing seasons (the first five from 1998-99 to 2002-03) and has not seen his winning percentage in a season dip below .537 (in 2008-09 the only season the Preds did not make the playoffs since 2002-03).

Translating into the Winnipeg situation - there are the similarities from Nashville to take into Winnipeg's current lineup.
Seven full time players in the Jets lineup this season are Atlanta/Winnipeg draft picks including Evander Kane, Ondrej Pavelec, Tobias Enstrom, Zach Bogosian, and Bryan Little.

Despite the quick transition over the summer from Atlanta to Winnipeg, the Jets have not made any big moves to bring in any big names to bolster any part of their lineups - but have made trades that addressed needs they may need down the road.

All in all, both franchises have not gone for the classic "band-aid solution" when it comes to equipping their core group of players for a long Stanley Cup run.

You will never see either franchise going after a Marian Hossa type deadline deal to bolster their lineup.

If winning is going to happen in Nashville or Winnipeg, it will start and ultimately end with the players that have been drafted, matured, and successful within the system.

And thanks to poor finishes in their 11 seasons in Atlanta, the Jets have a solid foundation of young talent highlighted by names above and by pieces frugally added to the lineup that are still early in their careers and luckily already with Stanley Cup experience - namely Andrew Ladd and Dustin Byfuglien.

Unlike Trotz, the Jets ownership had a prior history with the head coach before the season started. But not unlike Trotz, Claude Noel is being looked to to be the coach that helps to mature the Bryan Little's and Evander Kane's of the Jets young core.

Noel's longevity will depend on his ability to have a Trotzesque type of coaching style - calm, quiet, and patient. If the 2011-12 season was any indication, Noel is well on his way as of now.

If Nashville is the benchmark for the Jets, then Jets fans need not worry.

And if they're lucky, it won't take 13 years.

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